You may be quite aware of how many people maintain that our beloved Julia Child was a spy. Was she? No, not really. So why, then, do people keep saying she was? Is it just some weird urban legend that came out of nowhere? Or, does it have some basis?
The answer is that it has a quite concrete basis. You see, Julia Child may not have been a spy operative, but she worked for a spy agency. Namely, the OSS or Office of Strategic Services.
In fact, you could say that this work directly lead to her becoming such an important cooking icon. It lead to her discovery of French Cuisine and her love for it, and the knowledge foundation that helped her to bring French cooking and “haute cuisine” to everyday Americans.
Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California to a well-to-do family. After studying history at Smith College (where her mother had also attended) and graduating in 1934, she went to New York with the idea of being a writer. She did get a job writing advertising copy, but her writing career did not exactly take off, so she returned to Pasadena in 1937.
She didn’t have a lot of direction in those days. She volunteered, such as for the Junior League, and continued writing. She hadn’t really found her purpose. When the U.S. entered World War II, she wanted to help in some way with the war effort. She moved to Washington, DC in 1942.
She tried to join the WAC’s, or Women’s Army Corps, which in those days was a specific branch of the army for women as well as the Navy’s WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (I’m pretty sure that this is a ‘backronym.’). Neither service would have her, saying she was too tall, at 6’2″. Then she landed a job for OSS.
OSS stands for Office of Strategic Services, and agency created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. A wartime intelligence agency of the United States during World War II, The OSS was the predecessor of the CIA. The agency, among many other tasks, conducted spy operations to gather intelligence on the enemy.
What did Julia Child do for the OSS?
According to Julia, she was a file clerk with the OSS. According to others, she was a typist who became a researcher who became privvy to top-secret matters.
Indeed, she started as a typist and file clerk but she soon got a promotion and went to work for General William J. Donovan, the head of the agency. She traveled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then to China.
To say that Julia Child was a spy is an exaggeration. Yet, she did work for spies. Many claim that she handled extremely sensitive information and even had access to the identities of U.S. spies while handling thousands of classified documents.
It was in Ceylon that Julia Child’s journey to chef stardom began. Not only did she start trying new and exotic foods, but she met Paul Child, who worked for the OSS planning war rooms. Paul was a gourmand with a great knowledge of food who had lived for some years in France. He helped introduce Julia to new foods both in Ceylon and in China, and through this sharing, Julia’s love of food and cooking was sparked, as well as a love affair.
Later, after the war ended, their romance continued in the U.S. and Julia tried cooking with little success. After they were married, Paul’s job with the U.S.I.S. required him to relocate to Paris, and once Julia got to France and the couple dined throughout the country, her passion for French food developed into a need to understand it. She enrolled in classes at the legendary Le Cordon Bleu and the rest is culinary history.